January 26, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Don Schumacher and the Stardust Charger Funny Car

Don Schumacher's Stardust Charger funny car wasn't a flip top. Instead it featured an extreme altered wheelbase with both the rear and front wheels moved radically forward.
Don Shumacher Stardust Funny Car at Detroit Dragway
Don Shumacher and his early Stardust Funny Car at Detroit Dragway

Another “Star in the Making” at Detroit Dragway’s 1967 Midwest Championships was Don Schumacher and his Stardust injected Charger.

Schumacher, of course, would go on to much bigger and better things, but in 1967, he was just another UDRA Circuit regular. I’m not too sure what the chassis was like under the original Stardust Charger funny car, but it wasn’t a flip top. As you can see, this is yet another extreme altered wheelbase car, with both the rear and front wheels moved forward significantly. Interestingly, the front fenders do not appear to be lengthened –resulting in a stubby front end.

Schumacher soon became a major funny car star, eventually landing a huge multi-car sponsorship from Wonder bread. For a time, you couldn’t pickup a drag racing magazine without seeing one or more photos of Schumacher’s pokka-dotted Wonder bread machines in action.

Then suddenly, it ended. Schumacher sold all his cars and retired from the limelight. It seemed that the “shoe’s” racing career was over.

In the late ’70s, just over a decade after this photo was taken, I had become a full-time motorsports journalist. I wrote a regular column for Drag News and covered events all over the east coast. One day, I received a phone call from someone claiming to be Don Schumacher.

It wasn’t unusual for me to get calls from racers, I was at the track every weekend, and I knew many drivers and their crew very well. But those contacts came after talking to the racers at the track. This was different. I had never met Schumacher personally, and Schumacher had not been active for several years.

It was a strange call. Whoever was on the other end of the phone line seemed excited and talked very fast. The caller announced that he had a new major sponsor and would return to competition at that year’s US Nationals. He went on to describe a new multi-car team and indicated he intended to dominate NHRA major events.

I wasn’t sure what to think about this. The entire conversation was surreal, and I wasn’t sure if it was really Schumacher or not. When the call ended, I called my editor at Drag News. He hadn’t heard anything about Schumacher returning to competition. Neither had my editors at Super Stock and Drag Illustrated magazine. The following weekend I asked several funny car drivers if they had heard any rumors of Schumacher making a comeback. The answer was negative.

I decided against publishing anything about Schumacher’s return until I received more confirmation. When the US Nationals came and went with no sign of Schumacher, I concluded the call was some sort of hoax.

Schumacher eventually did return to racing, but not until the 1990s; installing son Tony Schumacher in a top fuel car. A lot of top fuel competitors probably wish Don and Tony had stayed away from drag racing, as Tony has become a major player in the top fuel ranks.

Every time I see Tony Schumacher on ESPN or read of his exploits in the newspaper, I wonder about that strange call in the seventies. Was it the real Don Schumacher? Did something happen to interrupt his planned assault on the US Nationals that year? Or was it hoax? If it was a hoax, who called and why?

I will probably never know.

Tom Bonner